Time to Grow Up: Adaptation and Media Literacy

Authors: Berger, R.

Conference: Media Education Summit

Dates: 7-8 September 2010


In his recent obituary of Manuel Alvarado, Ed Buscombe pays tribute to a man for whom, “studying media was always part of a wider project: to change how people thought about the world” (2010). Alvarado’s contemporaries such as Len Masterman (1985) long argued that a media, or film, literacy was therefore an essential aspect of any curriculum, while Terry Bolas’ (2009) work neatly charts the ‘film appreciation movement’ and its move away from education towards ‘high theory’ in our schools, colleges and universities.

While media studies was gaining traction as an academic subject, adaptation – or ‘literary adaptation’ - was being taught as an aspect of English Literature, or Film Studies programmes. Indeed, screening adaptations was often the first recourse of the literature teacher when introducing a new novel to their students – despite that subject’s almost natural resistance to any notion of ‘media studies’.

More recently Media Studies programmes have been grappling with notions of convergence and remediation as a way of understanding the cross-platform/transmedia era. Jonathan Gray (2010) uses the term ‘paratext’ to help us frame these non medium-specfic debates, while Will Merrin’s (2008) ‘Media Studies 2.0’ describes the reconfiguring of the subject to align more with participatory social networking practices.

Against this backdrop then, this paper will examine Alvarado and his peers’ legacy and will propose a rethinking of media literacy debates. The practice and theory of adaptation studies is now assuming a prominent and visible place in our school and college curriculums as part of a wider media literacy education. Dennis Cutchins, Laurence Raw and James M. Welsh (2010) now argue convincingly that adaptation “should be taught as an approach to texts of all kinds”. In addition, many of our students are already actively involved in ‘Web 2.0’ phenomena such as online fanfic writing and fan film-making. So, much of the types of cultural practices that ‘Media Studies 2.0’ attempts to understand, can be classed as adaptation of some variation.

So, drawing on case-studies from undergraduate media production and journalism teaching in the UK, this paper will suggest that any study of adaptation will reveal the relationships which exists between different media texts, while at the same time reaffirming media literacy in our students. Taking its cue from Neil Postman’s (1995) call to benignly exploit our student’s own creativity, this paper will further argue that the theory and practice of adaptation – where students go and adapt texts for themselves – becomes a powerful pedagogic tool.

Finally, this paper proposes that adaptation studies offers a counter to much of the medium-specific teaching that takes place in higher education; adaptation is a solution to medium studies – an often myopic and therefore limiting approach. In essence, we should all be adaptors now.


Source: Manual

Preferred by: Richard Berger